Political debutantes in the door

By Michael Day

Italy has to quickly get used to the newly elected 'amateur' followers of Beppe Grillo in Parliament.

Italians voted in a group of fresh faces, many of them women. Photo / AP
Italians voted in a group of fresh faces, many of them women. Photo / AP

Until a few weeks ago, Ivana Simeoni, 62, was a telephone operator for the emergency services in Latina, south of Rome.

Within days she'll enter the opulent Palazzo Madama as a Senator for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by the comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.

Four hundred metres down the road her son Cristian, a 39-year-old electrician, will make his debut as an MP in the Camera dei Deputati in Palazzo Montecitorio - Italy's Lower House of Parliament.

Simeoni is 14 years younger than the ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi, yet is still one of the oldest Grillo parliamentarians. A glance at her colleagues - 108 newly elected Five Star MPs and 53 new senators - reveals a striking gallery of fresh young faces, many of them women, who are about to hit the crusty, male-dominated corridors of the Italian Parliament.

Establishment figures have been quick to mock the slightly dumbstruck new cohort of parliamentarians.

Many have appeared in front of TV cameras since the election this week, replying with "umms" and "dunnos" when asked what they'll do or how they will organise themselves in Parliament.

Simeoni has some plans, however, even if they're not fully fledged. "There are so many things to clarify and decide, but we'll manage it somehow," she said. "My interest is in health. It's close to my heart because I've always worked with ambulances."

She said that her movement will decide whether to support the centre-left in passing laws in the Senate on a "moment by moment" basis - and significantly, only after all Five Star supporters have had the chance to give their opinions via the internet. "We [the parliamentarians] are the spokespeople for the movement."

There is no such thing as a typical Grillino. All they'll have in common will be their lack of political experience.

The astonishing responsibility has been thrust upon these political debutantes at a moment when Italy has never seemed so rudderless.

A Government formed by the centre-left will be a lame duck. The head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano - a reassuring figure to the nation - is due to pack his bags at the end of next month. And of course the shock abdication of Pope Benedict will leave pious Italians without a spiritual leader until a successor has been elected.

How Grillo will manage his team when he's not able to enter Parliament himself because of a manslaughter conviction following a fatal car crash, how these political debutantes will organise themselves and whether they're able to resist the perks and power that have corrupted so many other parliamentarians, remains to be seen.

The party's reluctance to enter into any formal pact with the political establishment was underlined when Grillo slapped down tentative approaches by the centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who needs Five Star support to pass laws in the Upper House. He called the shell-shocked Bersani "a dead man talking".

This typical Grillo putdown attracted some criticism on his famous blog from Five Star supporters who suggested a little pragmatism as well as aggression was needed now from the demagogue leader.

The Five Star Movement is at its heart a reaction against Italy's self-serving and corrupt politics.

But analyst Vincenzo Scarpetta said the fact that the Grillini are untarnished by Italy's parliamentary gravy train formed a crucial part of their appeal.

- Independent

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